Uganda: Amuru Calls for Dialogue to End Fires On Sugar Plantation

20 January 2020

Leaders in Amuru District have called for dialogue to end the rampant cases of fire outbreaks in Atiak sugarcane plantation in Atiak Sub-county.

The plantation is jointly owned by government, community members and a private investor, Ms Amina Moghe Hersi, under Haryal investment Holdings Limited.

Mr Michael Lakony, the district chairperson, said if residents are sensitised, they would embrace the project as their own.

"We have advised them (company) to iron out grievances they might be having in some areas so that harmony is realised. We feel if it is done, cases of sugarcane fires will be minimal. Who can burn his or her wealth?" Mr Lakony said at the weekend.

The latest fire outbreak occurred last week, destroying 200 acres of sugarcane estimated at Shs600m in Gem Village in Pacilo East Parish.

In December last year, 85 acres of sugarcane were burnt by unknown people while in 2018, 600 acres were destroyed in the same area.

Mr Lakony suspects that the fires are caused by hunters, charcoal dealers and people with ill-intentions.

Mr Jimmy Patrick Okema, the Aswa region police spokesperson, called for better communication between officials of Haryal Investment Holdings and the residents.

Mr Okema also said there is need to have watchtowers so that a fire can be detected and firefighters called in.

"We are also continuing with our community policing on the dangers of bush burning, which is a culture here, especially during the dry season when people are hunting edible rats commonly known as (Anyeri)," Mr Okema said.

He said a case of arson was reported at Atiak Police Station and another of setting fire on crops. Investigations are underway to ascertain the cause of the fires.

Ms Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Sugarcane Outgrowers Association, said the fires will affect their livelihood if they are not addressed.

"A meeting will be held soon with the board members and the proposed preventive measures will be put in place, vigilantes, who are also members of the cooperative will be on the high alert in keeping the closer look on the plantation, firebreak of between 15-20 metres and insurance so that in case of any fire outbreak, the insurance company pays," Ms Laker said.

She added that they were reaching out to insurance companies.

Ms Laker also said there was need to strengthen the capacity of the village chiefs so that they spearhead the fight against environment destruction and destruction of crops.

"A lot of food was destroyed as a result of the fires, and no one will be held accountable for the loss since there isn't any arrest," he said.

More than Shs25b has been invested by government to open up land and secure sugarcane seeds to plant on more than 23,841 acres in Amuru and Lamwo districts for outgrowers.

It is seeking a parliamentary approval of Shs24b additional funding to inject in Atiak Sugar Factory.

Dr Samuel Mugasi, the National Agriculture Advisory Services, executive director, said government has earmarked Shs53b to establish the plantation in Lamwo.

"An extra Shs53 billion will be invested in Lamwo in a period of three to four years to clear the land, open the roads, weeding and planting of sugarcane is expected to start in April," he said.

Sugar factory capacity

The Atiak sugar factory sits on more than 25,000 acres of land at Gem Village, Pachilo East Parish, Atiak Sub-county in Amuru District, and it is set to employ at least 1,500 workers once complete.

It currently has 15,000 acres of sugarcane. It is expected to have at least 25,000 acres at the time it kicks off production this year.

The construction of the factory with a capacity of 1,650 tonnes of sugarcane per day, started in January 2014 and sugar production is expected to kick off before the end of 2019/2020 financial year.

There are more than 4,000 out-growers that were contracted in 2016 to grow and sell sugarcane in Amuru, Lamwo, Gulu and Adjumani districts for five years.

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